Review: Aliens vs. Predator: Eternal trade paperback (Dark Horse)

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

[Guest review by Doug Glassman]

In my review of AVP Omnibus Volume One, Aliens vs. Predator: Eternal barely got a paragraph, and most of it was spoiler-warned. Now that I own the single trade, I felt it was time to return to this fantastic story.

Like all good AVP stories, it’s the future, although it’s not so far in the future that it seems removed from where we are now. Wars are still being fought, and covering an African war is Becca Shaw, a gorgeous English reporter. Becca isn’t exactly Ellen Ripley or Machiko Noguchi, but she holds her own as a character and doesn’t grate on the reader’s nerves. She also keeps up with the rapidly changing situations of the comics, occasionally getting one step ahead of the reader and the other characters. The ending hints at a sequel with her character, and it’s something I’d like to see.

Becca’s reporting is interrupted by a gunshot from an invisible assailant, which sends a possible peace agreement into a murderous frenzy. Have the Predators turned to political warfare? No, they’re humans wearing technology derived from the Predators, including cloaking devices, IR helmets and shoulder cannons. These men work for Gideon Suhn Lee, an opportunistic Asian businessman. I call him “Asian” because this is just one of his many identities over hundreds, if not thousands of years of life. He began as a lowlife scum somewhere in Asia until a botched “snake oil” elixir killed a bunch of villagers. This is when he stumbled upon a crashed Predator ship and gained the secret to eternal life. Lee’s greed and self-obsessed nature define him; he fancies himself a schemer, and he does pull off some good plans. His eternal youth was granted by a mysterious aspect of the Predator ship.

This is the big spoiler that I couldn’t reveal in the Omnibus review. Eternal life is granted by… eating Predator flesh. At first glance, this is a stupid concept. Why have we never heard about this before? Well, think about it: almost all of the contact between humans and Predators has involved hunting, and if a human found a dead Predator during a hunt, would they really try to see if its meat tastes good? They’re either on the run from Xenomorphs, more Predators, or Topher Grace, so there’s not a ton of time to rest and try it out.

It reminds me of a conversation I had with my mom a while ago, wondering how humans figured out which parts of the cow tasted good, or if sea urchins were edible. That takes a lot of experimentation; Lee could have just as easily died from eating something with glowing green blood, just as early Japanese died a lot from eating fugu before they learned how to cut it properly. Thankfully, Ian Edginton doesn’t try to explain it with some sort of technobabble. He just puts it in as a plot point, as Lee has begun hunting Predators for more flesh. His success also makes sense: many of the Predators that come to Earth are younger and are more vulnerable to human ingenuity.

You might have noticed that I’m talking a lot about the Predators. That’s because the Xenomorphs are only barely relevant in the story. Their infestation of Tokyo’s sewers almost seems like an afterthought. I wonder if Edginton wrote a Predator story and had to turn it into an AVP story by order of the editor. Despite the thrown-together feeling, it actually helps the story. There’s a great “silent” battle scene, wherein the two species fight without any dialogue or word boxes getting in the way. These kinds of fights pose a challenge to the illustrator, and Alex Maleev is up to the challenge.

Maleev loves his shadows, and with two races who love to play “hide and seek” with their victims, he gets to indulge in them a bit. At the same time, he draws some excellent regular art, including some very expressive characters. He does indulge in a little “cheesecake” with the armor Becca wears towards the end. It’s so outrageously skintight that it almost seems like an intentional joke. (Nipple armor, for God’s sake!) The art also tends towards squatter Predators, which is a legitimate portrayal versus a taller, thinner one. Not every Predator is a basketball player; one of the title creatures in Predators was played by Brian Steele, who was also Harry of Harry and the Hendersons and Samael in Hellboy, both broad and massive creatures.

I also need to mention Glen Fabry’s beautiful covers, which are collected in full in this edition. This trade is actually the source of the cover image for the AVP Omnibus Volume 1. Fabry’s art is far more solid in nature than Maleev’s, and the image of the Xenomorph on the cover of issue 3 is one of the more terrifying versions I’ve seen in a while. It’s one of the few times that I’ve found the second mouth more menacing than silly.

I stand by my assertion that Aliens vs. Predator: Eternal deserves to be made into the next film in the franchise. Since reviewing the Omnibus, I’ve started writing my own adaptation. With strong characters, a nicely complex plot and beautiful artwork, this is perhaps the best AVP story outside of the core trilogy.

Slightly off-topic, I have found my white whale, and it is Uncanny X-Men: The Draco by Chuck Austen. The author alone may convey the reason why I need this book. At its core is a plot hole so massive that it’s sucked me in. However, I can’t find it for less than double the cover price. If you have a copy of this stinker and would like to get it off of your bookshelf and into a good home, leave a message in the comments and we’ll work something out.
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